I was sad to miss the early concert this morning of the William Mason High School Wind Symphony. I was especially excited to hear John Mackey’s technical showpiece Liminal and Frank Ticheli’s young band piece December Snow (in Chicago, it’s real), but those will have to wait for another time. I started my concert-going in earnest this afternoon, with the excellent Palmetto Concert Band.

In This Broad Earth – Steven Bryant

Blessed Are They – Johannes Brahms, arr. Barbara Buehlman

Trittico – Vaclav Nelhybel

The Black Mask – Al Hayes, arr. Robert E. Foster

Wings of Apollo – Vince Gassi

Concerto #2 for Trumpet “Rextreme” – James Stephenson

My Eyes Are Full of Shadow – Joel Puckett

Galactic Mission – Joshua Hinkel

there are no words – James Stephenson

They Bryant was a great concert opener, with a fanfare flavor that sustained energy at various levels. The Brahms is a classic transcription which sounds great for just about any band, but I found myself missing the voices in many spots. The Nelhybel represents some of the most primal writing for wind band, and was extraordinary to hear live. The Black Mask was in fact a fun, light march, nothing like what I expected from the title. The Gassi was a very interesting young band piece, although I would question its rating at grade 1 (more like 2.5 in my opinion).   The Stephenson trumpet concerto, featuring its dedicatee Rex Richardson, was a crazy jazz solo over a rather staid symphonic accompaniment. The Puckett featured cloud harmonies, with some halting motion that I thought drew the piece out just a bit too far. Galactic Mission, a fast-slow-fast overture, is likely to be showing up in middle schools everywhere before too long. there are no words was Stephenson’s response to the Charleston church shooting – understanding that program made the piece vastly more affecting. Chillingly, as I walked out the concert, I saw a notification on my phone that Dylan Roof, the Charleston shooter, had been convicted of the shootings as a hate crime. May music like James Stephenson’s help us to cope and forgive.

Next up was the Hebron High School Wind Symphony conducted by Andy Sealy. They articulated beautifully, particularly in the clarinet section, and had a beautiful blended sound in the entire band.

Circus Overture – William Schuman, arr. Don Owen

The Best of Rooms – Randall Thompson, arr. Barbara Lambrecht

English Dances, Set Two – Malcolm Arnold, arr. Nigel Herbert

Pursuit of the Centaur – Robert Sheldon

Dance Variations on a Theme from Rodolynji – James Sudduth

The Yellow Rose of Texas – arr. Lewis J. Buckley

Three Ayres from Gloucester – Hugh M. Stuart, arr. Robert Longfield

Wedding Dance – Jacques Press, arr. Frederick Fennell

Eagle Squadron – Kenneth J. Alford, arr. R. Mark Rogers

Their Midwest program appears to use the Texas grading system where 5 is the highest, so every single item on the program should be rated at least one grade higher for the rest of us. The Circus Overture was a technical showpiece with a whole lot of notes that sounded like Shuman, with bitonality in spots and angular melodies. The Thompson had the entire band singing in harmony for the entire first verse! The Arnold was fun and folky but obviously modern as well – the third movement sounded like a Satie Gymnopedie. The Sheldon featured fanfare figures and some interesting extended harmonies. The Sudduth was a theme and variations that featured a relaxed opening and some truly exquisite solos. The Yellow Rose of Texas featured Travis Pruitt on euphonium in a very entertaining Carnival of Venice-style theme and variations. The Stuart was supposed to be an easier transcription of this classic piece, but I heard nothing suggesting that a grade 1 band could pull it off, even taking the Texas scale into consideration – the trumpets went up to a high G! The Wedding Dance had a fun klezmer flavor. The Alford was a beautiful march with a stunning piccolo solo.

 

The evening’s concert of the Tamagawa Academy Wind Orchestra was a stunner in many ways. First, they were an elementary/middle school band, with players apparently ranging from 10-14 years old (!!). Second, they did a couple of concertos, with student soloists who brought the house down. Finally, they played some of the most interesting and daring new Japanese band music I have heard in many years.

Fanfare Chicago Based on C-C-A-G – Shuhei Tamura

The Liberty Bell – John Philip Sousa, arr. Shuhei Tamura

Cavalleria Rusticana – Pietro Mascagni, arr. Eiji Suzuki and Koh Shishikura

Shenandoah – Frank Ticheli

Tuba Concerto (1st Movement) – Edward Gregson

Invicta – James Swearingen

Ladies in Lavender Theme – Nigel Hess

Variations on My Old Kentucky Home – Stephen Foster, arr. Toru Ito

Ho-O Jin-ai cho-fu – Eiji Suzuki

 

This program was uneven – they played the pieces with Japanese names attached far better than any of the Western music, in general. The Tamura Fanfare revealed a powerful brass section and struck me with its beautiful and daring (generally consonant) harmonies. The Liberty Bell arrangement was obviously easier than the original, but it took some liberties (no pun intended) with orchestration, resulting a sort of colorization of certain spots. I wondered aloud to my concert partner (hi, Laurel!) whether the kids had any idea of the Monty Python connection!  Both band and soloist were extremely impressive in the Gregson. The Foster’s 8th grade euphonium soloist started out very reserved, but she blew everyone away with some impossible technical work and a glorious high B-flat at the end of the piece, earning a standing ovation and many jaws on the floor. The highlight of the concert for me was the final piece, a dramatic, daring, and dissonant work unlike anything I have heard from a Japanese composer. It drew me in and kept my full attention, and I will be seeking a score for it immediately.

Bravo to all! More inspiration to come tomorrow.